Category: Resources

Revisiting Habits, asking “How’s This Working For Me?”

A month ago I went cold turkey.

No online, paper, or radio news.

No social media.

No falling down the internet rabbit hole.

It wasn’t a particularly well-thought-out, planned-for decision. (Which defies everything we think we know about habit change – right? Conventional wisdom is that habits are easiest to change if we have a plan, have prepared, told significant others, have figured out alternatives, etc.)

But I had no plan. It was an impulsive decision, and I had prepared no one, including myself. I just knew that I felt attached at the hip to the news cycle, and wasn’t sure if it was serving me even though it’s easy to believe that we “should” be paying moment-to-moment attention. Life felt loud, like a bunch of clanging bells always ringing, shaking me out of my own thoughts and efforts. I felt attached at the hip to social media because of FOMO, but didn’t find myself happier or more connected as a result. (The research supports that anxiety and depression and isolation can actually increase because of internet usage!) I’m not morally opposed to the internet, and am grateful for the amazing things that happen on it and because of it. I hold no judgments of other people’s internet habits, but was finding that my own habits weren’t feeling particularly skillful. In other words: was it really worth the time and attention I was giving it?

Now, it’s been almost a month and I find that the impulse to open news and social media websites has mostly faded. Sometimes I find myself staring at my email, wanting there to be something entertaining and new there that somehow I missed, but then I realize – oh, I’m tired – or, oh, I’m not doing anything – and close the computer. Somehow, taking a sabbatical from most of my online world has reduced my stress and quieted the clanging.

I don’t miss the news. I hear from friends or family about what’s happening politically, and am concerned but also don’t miss the roller coaster ride. I’m finding other ways to be involved and engaged – reading more books (like The New Jim Crow and Mindful of Race), getting together more with colleagues, and listening to a series of Tara Brach’s lectures on Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. Somehow it seems like I’m experiencing more spaciousness as well – perhaps because I’m bombarding myself less with stimuli. I certainly don’t feel worse. If anything, I feel a bit healthier – a bit more here, in the present moment, with therapy clients and when I’m with family or alone.

My experience has reminded me that taking a step back to assess a part of our life – even a minute, mostly inconsequential part – can sometimes be useful. In the words of America’s favorite non-therapist therapist, Dr. Phil, “How’s that working for you?” He’s cheesy as hell, but it’s a great question.

 

8 Tips for Talking with White Kids about Racism, Violence, and Charlottesville

8 Tips for Talking with White Kids about Racism, Violence, and Charlottesville

I have a love/hate relationship with the internet, but I’m all love for the world wide web when I see articles that aim to help adults talk to children about important issues like racism and violence. Unfortunately, this is a conversation that parents of color are used to having with their children. It’s time for white families to catch up.

At the bottom of this post are a few resources. And here are seven tips:

  1. Let your child know that no question is stupid.
  2. Provide age-appropriate answers that support what you want your child to believe about the world. Do you believe there are “good” and “bad” people? Then use that language. In my family, we talk about how when people feel mad or sad, sometimes they act in mean ways.
  3. Remind them what your family believes – and how that guides your family’s actions. For instance, “In our family, we know that everyone’s equal and important and so we treat everyone with kindness and respect. I’m sorry that other people don’t feel the same way.”
  4. Let them know that there’s also lots of good in the world. Brainstorm a list together of different things they’ve seen or experienced in the last day or two that have made them feel happy, loved and loving.
  5. Let them know your job is to help them stay safe.
  6. Limit exposure to upsetting media. Like adults, kids’ anxiety can go up when they have information they don’t have the capacity to fully process.
  7. Consider a realistic family project to help your child feel empowered to act. A few ideas are drawing a sign for your front yard, having a lemonade stand and giving money to a charity you believe in, or sending a thank-you note to an activist or politician you respect.
  8. Despite what many of us grew up believing, we know now that kids confront racism best when race is something they know they can talk about openly. Being “color blind” is a myth, and one that can be offensive to many people of color. Learn more about talking to kids about race here.

This article from the New York Times does a good job compiling book resources. 

Local bookstore Charis has compiled a great list of books. 

This article may be a helpful first-person perspective on talking with white children. 

 

Separating Suicide Facts from Myths

My heart has been hurting these past few weeks as I’ve been following a terrible story unfolding in the news. A teen was suicidal; his girlfriend urged him, via text messages, to actually kill himself. He did. She’s now been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Everything about this story is awful, and this tragedy likely could have been avoided. Many people experience thoughts of “I just want this to end” at some point in their lives, and we know that most people who survive suicide attempts and live to recover from depression end up incredibly glad that they are alive.

Based on my professional experience, I want to mention a few specific points that are important for us all to know:

  1. If you think a loved one may be depressed or suicidal, it’s always, always, always worth getting them evaluated by a therapist or at a hospital. Here’s a good resource on identifying warning signs. There is no reason to wait. 
  2. No matter our age, depression and anxiety almost always cloud our judgment. For teens, add in a still-evolving sense of self, lack of control (here’s a great YouTube video my teen clients often like on the subject) and a still-developing brain and it’s a recipe for potential trouble. 
  3. You don’t need to tiptoe around the topic of suicide. It’s okay to say “have you been having suicidal thoughts?” This will not plant the idea of suicide in anyone’s mind and it may be a relief to have someone ask directly.
  4. The suicide case that I started this post with is the exception, not the rule. Many of the teens I’ve counseled over the years have risked important friendships by telling a parent or teacher when a friend has been depressed or suicidal. On the whole, teens, like adults, typically do the right thing — even when it has the potential for major social consequences.

Microagressions, Race, and Beloved Community

I do a fair amount of eye rolling at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the unsubstantial click-bait on its homepage. (Currently “Hawks to Hold Cheerleader Auditionsmicro-agression” is front-and-center.) But I’ve been interested lately to read their Race in Atlanta series, and appreciative of the different perspectives they’ve highlighted. (For a few examples of stories, click here or here.)

The latest story is on microaggressions, with AJC journalist Willoughby Mariano providing some useful examples of daily indignities that People of Color endure and that people with my skin tone are often oblivious to.  It’s worth a read and conversation.

The “Hilarious” World of Depression

Hilarious World of Depression

I’ve just listened to the first two episodes of The Hilarious World of Depression, a podcast series that interviews comedians about their struggles with depression, anxiety, and related mental health concerns. Weird combo? Yes. Does it work? From what I can tell, it sure does.

But you can judge for yourself. I’d love to hear what you think the podcast gets right — and wrong — about depression.